We spoke with Mary Tang, creator of food site Mary’s Happy Belly, this month. It was a delight getting to ask a few questions of a food lover and culinary creative who consistently posts compelling recipes and beautifully photographed accounts of her travels to a variety of food and drink-themed festivals each year. Mary shared with us on recent and upcoming food events in her home city of Toronto, eye-opening cooking experiences, a profession she considers to be her dream job, and a lot more.
Flavorful World: This summer you covered the Culinary Charity Event called Toronto Taste for Second Harvest Describe the atmosphere of the event in one word, and tell us what the highlights were of the day for you in terms of food or drink and entertainment, and why.
Mary Tang: I would have to say, “Lively!” I’ve attended so many culinary charity events and ‘Toronto Taste’ was a standout. We got amazing local chefs in attendance, generous donors, and phenomenal food. Holding the event at Toronto’s waterfront was a stunning choice. The indoor space had high ceilings and windows that let in lots of sunlight and everywhere I turned, there was a buzz of activity – from chef demonstrations to a live charity auction to live entertainment.
As for the food, top-notch canapés of scallop crudo, beef carpaccio and tender octopus were served. With 60 plus beverage and restaurant providers, I was beyond full.
FW: What is your comfort food of choice, and why?
MT: Soup! Whether it’s noodles in soup, or soup on its own, this is the comfort food that brings back childhood memories. Each sip of homemade soup feels very nourishing and comforting. My all-time favorite comfort food is my mom’s pho. The soup is full of robust beef flavor and tons of love! I grew up eating rice mainly, but there was always soup with every meal. I try to make soup often for my family. One of my favorite Chinese dishes to make is pork bone soup with lotus root (recipe on my blog: http://www.maryshappybelly.com/pork-bone-soup-with-lotus-root/).
FW: What is the most crucial piece of advice that you would offer to an aspiring food blogger?
MT: Enjoy the journey of food blogging and do it because you love it! Blogging is hard work and it can get overwhelming at times. Whether you learn to be a better writer, photographer, or you just got your first sponsored post, celebrate small and big wins!
FW: In 2014, you competed on the reality TV culinary program The Pressure Cooker, and among your personal fun facts, named Butcher as your dream job and your Wonton Soup as your signature dish. Have these changed since that experience? If so, what would you say are your current dream job and signature dish? If not, what aspect of being a butcher do you find most attractive and how do you personalize your wonton soup recipe?
MT: I still love buying whole chicken, duck, or fish, and separating them into pieces myself. I find butchering weirdly therapeutic. My dream job has changed from my experience on the cooking competition show ‘The Pressure Cooker’, and it will likely evolve over time. I love eating good food as much as cooking it, but I do wish I could travel more with my family.
My present dream job would be a blogger who travels with my family around the world to try various dishes. I would become a better cook and a recipe developer for my blog with more inspirations to draw from. If I can make a living from teaching others how to cook, that would also be a dream job. I do make a wicked wonton soup using duck stock, shiitake mushrooms and dried lily bulbs, with a Chinese 5 spice flavored pork wonton. My signature dish is still a noodles and soup dish, but it reflects more Thai and Vietnamese flavors with a homemade tomato fish stock infused with lemongrass, tamarind, and kaffir lime leaves. The soup is appetizing all year and always hits the spot! I love to top my soup with a few spoonfuls of sambal oelek and fresh herbs like Thai basil.
FW: In a post earlier this year you wrote about the eye-opening experience of making brown rice at home for the first time. Since that time, have you featured brown rice in other recipes? If so, what original recipe do you think has been your most imaginative usage of it, and why?
MT: I have made brown rice many times since my blog post of making pressed sushi (Oshizushi). (Pressed sushi recipe here: http://www.maryshappybelly.com/how-to-make-pressed-sushi/) No food gets wasted in my house, and I love using leftover brown rice in my congee, fried rice or in soups. I feel that most dishes are elevated when they involve stuffing – from stuffed lamb and pork chops, to stuffed peppers. With Thanksgiving approaching, a brown rice stuffing would be perfect. I would add in a combination of different earthy mushrooms, apples, sage and thyme. Brown rice has a naturally nutty flavor and is packed with great nutrients!
FW: What food or drink festival that takes place in Toronto have you never attended but look forward to doing so the next time it meets? What attracts you to that festival?
MT: Living in Toronto is incredible – there’s never a shortage of culinary events to attend and look forward to. The Big Feastival from the UK debuted in Canada this past summer just north of Toronto. My amazing blog contributors attended on my behalf while I was vacationing, so I missed out! (The Big Feastival Review here: http://www.maryshappybelly.com/event-big-feastival-canada-2017/)
With two young girls, I love culinary events that are fun for the whole family and The Big Feastival is attractive on that front. It included camping, entertainment for kids, musical acts, cooking demos, and a bunch of food and beverage vendors. If it comes back next year, I’ll definitely attend!
FW: What makes your belly happiest about cooking and eating now that autumn has arrived?
MT: I love cooking so much because I can make what satisfies my taste buds, I know what goes into my food, and I can eat a lot of what I like. My belly is always satisfied! It makes me happiest to see my husband and kids enjoy my food every day. The ultimate compliment is when someone asks me, “How did you make that?” Autumn’s colder weather makes me crave warm comfort foods like stews, soups and roasts…and who doesn’t love comfort food? Autumn also means Thanksgiving and I love big family feasts!
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
MT: “Push it to the limit!”
Ask my friends and family—I have a Type A personality. I’m constantly pushing myself to do better in every aspect of my life—my blogging, my cooking, my career, my family. I do celebrate my wins, but I am super-competitive with myself. I’ve always had a big appetite and can eat a ton since I was a teenager, and can eat as much as my husband who is 10 inches taller than me. Knock on wood, I’m still very healthy! With one life to live, I enjoy eating what I want, and a lot of it! There’s a never-ending list of things to learn about the culinary world, places to visit, and things to eat and I never want it to stop. “Push it to the limit” pretty much describes everything about me.
FW: When you aren’t cooking/eating delicious things, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
MT: I love spending time with my family, doing simple things like playing in the backyard, going to the park, grocery shopping, and taking afternoon naps when I get a chance. Sitting down to enjoy some cooking shows or watch a movie is also a rare, but necessary, pleasure.
*Note to readers: The good news to take away from this read is that Mary’s food wanderings and creations are everywhere we want to be on the ‘net. The better news is that you can be there too, keeping up on them all by following her on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, being her Facebook bestie, and linking up with her on Pinterest and Google+. Anyone reading this with the heart of a true food lover can’t help but do all of these, right? It’s one sure way to fill your eyes and stomach with delicious, globe-spanning foods anytime you like.
This article first appeared on FlavorfulWorld.com.